How annie haslam discovered her voice articles fairfaxtimes.com v gashi 2012

#

She is best known as the English lead singer of the progressive rock band Renaissance. She has a five-octave vocal range and this is how she discovered it: “My father was an amateur comedian singer… my brother Michael was a singer in the sixties. His voice is a cross between Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley; his voice was magnificent, and he ended up being managed by Brian Epstein, who managed the Beatles. He recorded some singles. He was the one in the family that was a singer. I had no idea that I was to be as well! I was probably about 12 or 13 when he was singing, and I wanted to be a dress designer. I did not know I had a voice really. So I went to art school to be a dress designer and did all the usual things that connected with that. It was in Cornwall in England, which is very beautiful; I lived by the ocean and the students at the art school used to have these amazing parties down on the beaches. We all used to sing and I starting singing then, but still I did not realize, I just started singing with everybody else. When I moved up to London to be a dress designer, I ended up with a boyfriend called Eric Peacock, we went to a party and I was just singing because I had a couple glasses of wine and he said “Gosh, you can really sing! I think we should put you into some talent competitions.” He was the one, really, who discovered my voice and put me in these talent competitions, and I kept winning them. At the time, I loved Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell so I kind of emulated them a little bit, like a lot of singers do when they start off singing. I wanted to go to Harold Miller who taught a very famous singer from Wales called Shirley Bassey, she sang the theme tune to Goldfinger an early James Bond movie …a big hit!

Unfortunately Harold only taught in the daytime, but he loved my voice, and I had a regular day job at the time. So he put me in touch with Sybil Knight an opera teacher, and that’s where I found my own voice, and that’s when I realized that I had a different voice than Joan and Joni … And also have five octaves that I never knew I had. My advice for anyone these days, is to go to somebody that teaches opera as well as traditional singing. This is how you find your own voice. That’s when I realized I could really sing.My first job was in a cabaret group in London, and I did that for six months, and I felt a little out of place, and I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do at that point. But one of the guys in the band said to me, “Your voice is unique; you shouldn’t be here singing other people’s songs; you should be out doing something different.” He said, “I’ve seen an ad in the Melody Maker,” which back then was a very famous music paper, and it was advertising for a singer for an internationally-known pop group. So, I called up and they were away in Europe, and they said the band was called “Renaissance’. They only had one album out and I bought it and learned it back to front. The original “Renaissance” grew from the ashes of the Yardbirds, a well known British rhythm and blues band. When they broke up, Keith Relf and Jim McCarty wanted to stay on the road, they only toured with Renaissance for six months and soon became tired of being back in the road. They passed the band on to other musicians and it became a six piece band. Keith and Jim were at my audition, New Year’s Eve, 1970. They asked me to sing Island, and that’s the song that got me the job. I’ve always wanted to sing that onstage with this band. I think maybe when I first joined, we might have done it; it’s such a long time ago, but when I joined the band I was a backing singer; I wasn’t really a lead singer because there was another male singer called Terry. I always felt I wanted to sing this song again because it turned my life around. And so on this last tour, and these shows coming up now, I decided that I wanted to do Island and put it in the show, as a tribute to Keith and Jim McCarty for writing the song and forming the band. And what we did for these shows in the fall, we orchestrated that song as well as the others, it was very emotional, and we’ll be doing that for the shows in May…I wish we could take it everywhere, but when you have ten other musicians to pay, it’s a lot. There were sixteen of us on stage, it was electric!”

HASLAM: Yes, I love working with men, I have not had good experiences in my career with women. They seem to be very competitive. I’ve met some very well-known women that I idolized and was treated very badly by, just very rudely in front of my face, for no reason other than being competitive; that’s what it is, it’s all about competition. And so, I’m fine with working with men. It was all men when I joined the band. I love to speak to other female singers and be involved with them but they don’t seem to want to be involved with me. That’s fine; I’d rather be out on my own, really.

HASLAM: Renaissance is definitely one of the pioneers in progressive symphonic rock band area. We were one of the bands that successfully married an orchestra into our music. We performed at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1977 and we did three nights at Carnegie Hall in 1975. They were extremely successful and we had live albums come from those shows, the experience of which is hard to put into words. Out of this world! We never filmed back then. That was such a big mistake; I don’t know why we didn’t, but we did record those shows. We also played with the Rochester Philharmonic, which was at the Eastman theatre in Rochester, NY.

When Michael Dunford and I reformed the band in 2009, it was a dream to perform again one day with an orchestra. We couldn’t see how we were going to do it, because we had such a long break from performing ‘live’. I had my solo singing career, recorded 8 albums and toured with my band to Japan and Brazil plus the east coast of the US. I pulled back from my singing career in 2003 after I discovered I was also a painter! I did some recording and concentrated on my painting, which was my new career.

So the dream was still alive to play with an orchestra again, and the other dream that I had, because I started painting songs, I seem to be able to portray songs really well as a painting, so I decided that what I would like to do one day was to have a show with an orchestra behind us, and behind the orchestra would be a giant screen, and every song there would be a painting. And that’s what we did in the fall with the help of my longtime friend and musical collaborator and confidant, Rave Tesar who is brilliant musician; we’ve worked together since 1998.

Sadly Michael Dunford never got to see the orchestra shows because of his untimely death in 2012, he had a cerebral hemorrhage it was heartbreaking. I didn’t know if I was going to carry on with the band, but we had just done an album called Grandine il Vento, we just finished it and it would have been tragic not to do anything with it after all the work that we put into it. So I decided I had to carry on with the legacy and just get the music out there and keep going. The band members are really fabulous guys and great musicians. They are Rave Tesar, Mark Lambert, Leo Traversa, Geoffrey Langley and Charles Descarfino. The orchestra shows were a great success and we will be performing with them again at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ on May 11.